Poudre River Forum draws a crowd

“It’s about bringing this diverse group of people together to talk about the Poudre River,” said MaryLou Smith, forum convener, when asked about the most important takeaway from the day-long, fourth annual Poudre River Forum on Feb. 3 in Greeley.

This year’s event, dubbed, “As the Poudre Flows: Forest to Plains,” drew 250 participants.

Smith, who works as policy and collaboration specialist for the Colorado State University Water Institute, has been involved with the forum since its inception. Sponsored by the Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group, the forum provides a face-to-face opportunity for people from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds to learn about and discuss issues related to the Poudre River.

“It brings together those who use the river for agricultural and urban diversions and those who work to improve its ecological health. In the past, those groups have not necessarily seen eye to eye,” said Smith. “Increasingly, our participants are open to the idea that it is going to take collective vision and action to make the Poudre the world’s best example of a healthy, working river.”

The day was chock-full, from panel discussions addressing how the health of the river is linked with the health of the forest, and ways to adapt to change, to reports on Greeley’s newly-initiated Water Budget Program, and the ways in which Fort Collins is integrating data across the sciences and enhancing communication to address river issues.

During short breaks and the lunch hour, participants had a chance to browse two dozen booths addressing river-related projects and issues. The Heritage Culturalist Program is open to volunteers interested in the history and recreational opportunities provided by the river. Following training and certification, to be held in April, culturalists will be qualified to lead river tours and make presentations about the river. Call 970-295-4851 or see programs@poudreheritage.org.

Keynote speaker, Brian Richter, The Nature Conservancy’s Global Water Program chief scientist, based in Washington, spoke about how changing human relationships have changed the way we use water over time. He has served as water advisor for projects around the world for 25 years and has come face-to-face with grave water shortages. “Water is now scarce in half the world,” he said.

Yet, he presented what he sees as viable solutions related to reducing use, creating efficiency in agricultural irrigation and sharing or trading in water markets. The author, with Sandra Postel, of Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability, told the group, “The work that you are doing is the most important work we can be doing in this century.”

Clips from a 1970s-era video showing the degradation of the Poudre River made viewers aware of all the work that has been done since then to improve the condition of the river and its banks as it flows through Fort Collins. No longer is the area marred by trash and debris that included discarded auto parts and even whole cars.

Before the forum drew to a close, participants, seated at around tables, were invited to respond to a set of questions about the Poudre River and then discuss their opinions with each other, paying special attention to listening to each other with an eye to broadening perspectives on issues related to the river. The goal was not to change opinions but rather to learn from each other.

Martin Carcasson, founder and director of CSU’s Center for Public Deliberation, led the exercise. The goal of the Center is to enhance democracy through improved public communication, community problem solving and collaborative decision-making.